Natalie Portman swims into dark waters in ‘Black Swan’
If Girl Interrupted bitchslapped The Turning Point, the aftermath would resemble something like Black Swan. This psychological thriller, set in the competitive world of the New York City Ballet is haunting and hypnotic yet graceful and raw in the way it unfolds, layer by fascinating layer, into a gripping tale that explores the lines between reality and perception. It’s one of the best films of the year and its star, Natalie Portman, delivers a career-defining role that could win her an Oscar. (The star and the film just nabbed Golden Globe noms.)
Portman plays Nina, a featured dancer—protective layer on the outside, completely frail on the inside—in a prominent ballet company. She’s worked hard over the years and her dreams of being moved into center spotlight finally become realized when the company’s alpha male director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) opts to re-imagine the classic “Swan Lake.”
Star power can't quite redeem twisty, but flawed 'Tourist'
You know the story: unsuspecting pigeon snookered in by a sexy stranger, only to be drawn into a deadly game by powers beyond his control. And that's pretty much the story we get through most of The Tourist, a Hollywood star vehicle that positions Johnny Depp, as an innocent abroad, and Angelina Jolie, as a glamorous mystery woman, against the gorgeous backdrop of Venice.
But it's all a matter of perspective in what turns out to be a surprisingly sneaky, cheeky adventure thriller from German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. In The Lives of Others, von Donnersmarck studied voyeurism in the tale of a lonely East German police captain who spends years spying on a bohemian playwright. The surveillance equipment is a lot more high-tech in The Tourist, as Interpol agents collaborate with Scotland Yard to keep tabs on the protagonists, but beyond the central plot is a larger story about who is watching and manipulating whom.
Picaresque 'Narnia: Dawn Treader' sails into adventure
It's not exactly a pirate movie. But there's enough shipboard action (roiling seas, burnished sunsets, athletic swordplay) to cheer any would-be seafarer, child, or child at heart, in the third of C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia adventures, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Be advised, an unfortunate amount of screen time is devoted to the brattiest of the film's youthful protagonists. Still, veteran director Michael Apted keeps the story pulsing along at a good clip, moral lessons are succinct and not too heavy-handed, and the magical elements are stylishly done.
This time out, the two eldest Pevensie siblings have grown up and joined their parents in the States, leaving Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley, now a poised young tween) back in wartime Britain in their aunt and uncle's home, at the mercy of their snotty cousin Eustace (Will Poulter). In this chapter, a painting is their portal back to Narnia, dragging the disbelieving Eustace along for the ride.
'Tamara Drewe' is a sly, funny, modern reboot of a Victorian classic
What happens when you cross Thomas Hardy with the modern (feminist) graphic novel? If you're lucky, the result will be something sharply observed and acerbically funny like “Tamara Drewe.” This serial graphic novel from veteran cartoonist Posy Simmonds ran in weekly installments in London's Guardian newspaper from 2005 to 2006. Set in Hardy country (the bucolic Dorset countryside), it's a sly reboot of Far From the Madding Crowd, with a luscious heroine pursued by three obsessed men from very different social strata.
Everybody talks about the evolution of Walt Disney cartoon fairy tale heroines—from the helpless '30s Snow White with her baby doll voice, waiting for her prince to come, to the obedient '50s drudge, Cinderella, and on to plucky, self-reliant Belle, Mulan and Tiana of the modern era. But how about the evolution of the Disney cartoon fairy tale hero? Seriously, who even remembers the bland, boring, cookie-cutter princes who partnered those earlier Disney heroines? The first one to distinguish himself from the pack was the magnificent Beast in 1990 and even he morphed back into a boring prince at the end. But this new breed of Disney heroines deserves better, more rambunctious males, like last year's Frog Prince, Naveen.
‘Burlesque’ is dreamy but, oh, slightly nightmarish
Burlesque is a mess. But damn it—you can’t walk away hating it. The new musical drama starring Cher and Christina Aquilera—in her big screen debut—is an enigma indeed. It’s creatively clunky in the way Flashdance was; at times silly and limp with its writing (the way Footloose was) yet dramatic and visually striking, showing signs of breathtaking surprise a la Chicago. But if it’s a good story you’re looking for, keep looking. If you want to kill two hours with a playful romp and some eye-popping musical numbers and, of course, Cher, climb on board.
Three not-so-great—and some great—things about ‘Love And Other Drugs’
As a pharmaceutical drug pusher Jake Gyllenhaal is feisty in Love And Other Drugs, based on Jamie Reidy's memoir, “Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman.” Co-starring Anne Hathaway as a commitment phobic with a serious illness, the film takes place in the late ’90s, just as Viagra was about to rise to the occasion. But does the film?